Fire

Fire expect tough test in KC, but may have good timing

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Fire expect tough test in KC, but may have good timing

If ever there was a time to face Sporting Kansas City, this might be it.

The Chicago Fire head to Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday to take on a Sporting KC team that just traded Dom Dwyer to Orlando. The trade itself is making waves around Major League Soccer for the record-breaking amount of allocation money involved ($1.6 million if incentives are hit), but for the Fire it simply means an opportunity to get a crack at the hosts before they fully regroup without the prolific scorer.

On top of that, Gerso Fernandes, who leads the team with six goals, is suspended for the game for a dangerous tackle last weekend at Real Salt Lake. Other SKC stalwarts Matt Besler and Graham Zusi are returning to the team after starting in and winning Wednesday’s Gold Cup final with the national team. Key defender Ike Opara is listed as questionable after suffering a concussion in a U.S. Open Cup game on July 11.

That’s not to say Sporting won’t still be a tough out, especially at home. KC is undefeated at home (6-0-4) and hasn’t lost in two months. Sporting is on a 10-match unbeaten run, including three wins in the U.S. Open Cup, even with Besler, Zusi and Dwyer missing time while with the national team.

“They are a good team,” Fire winger David Accam said. “We know what they can do. They are really solid at the back also. They tend to win, especially in Kansas, they haven’t lost yet. They haven’t lost a game there and they are a really good team so for us we need to put New York behind us and try to concentrate and focus on the next game.”

The Fire (11-4-5, 38 points) are trying to rebound from a 2-1 loss at New York City FC, the Fire’s first MLS loss since April. The game will air live on CSN+ with coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

KC (8-4-9, 33 points) has allowed a jaw-dropping 15 goals in 21 matches, which is the best total in the league. Central midfielder Ilie Sanchez has proven to be a revelation and helps protect the backline and defend the middle of the field, something the Fire has struggled with a few times this season including the loss in New York.

Even with a potentially shorthanded backline, Kansas City is still a solid defensive team with goalkeeper Tim Melia having a standout season.

“I think for me it’s a great opportunity for us, playing against one of the best teams also in the league, a tough team,” Paunovic said. “A great opportunity to recover the mentality we had and it’s not going to be easy. I think they have a very balanced team, good in attack, good in defense, one of the best in defense obviously in the league, but we have one of the best attacks. I think it’s a great test for this is how we are going to prepare our guys.

“For sure, if we can break this defense, we then can keep believing that we are one of the best attacks and teams in the league. That’s going to be the challenge.”

The Fire will be without Brandon Vincent, who suffered a quad injury in warmups before the game in New York. Michael Harrington filled in at left back. Patrick Doody, who recently returned from a loan spell with USL team Saint Lousi FC, is another option at left back.

Chicago Fire at Sporting Kansas City

Where: Children's Mercy Park, Kansas City, Kan.

TV: CSN+

When: Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (11-4-5, 38 points), Sporting KC (8-4-9, 33 points)

Fire rumored to be connected to former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas

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AP

Fire rumored to be connected to former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas

They don’t call it silly season in Europe for nothing.

The offseason rumors that pop up and, in some cases, happen make for good entertainment around the world of soccer. Sometimes those rumors are connected to MLS, whether or not the chances of them coming to fruition are high.

The latest example of this is Steven Goff of the Washington Post tweeting out a juicy rumor involving the Chicago Fire and former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Goff doesn’t sound very confident in it happening and there are plenty of reasons why, but there are also reasons why it could make sense. In this case, it makes sense for Casillas to be looking for a home to continue his career. When his contract at FC Porto expires at the end of this European season in June, he will be 37 years old.

It’s been two and a half years since he left Real Madrid, where he spent the rest of his career, and he’s not the elite goalkeeper he once was. If Casillas wants to keep playing he may not be able to stick at a Champions League club like Porto, and that’s where the MLS rumors come into play. It makes sense for Casillas to have interest in joining MLS.

On the Fire’s end, the team isn’t loaded at goalkeeper, although there are three keeprs under contract (Matt Lampson, Jorge Bava, Stefan Cleveland) with the possibility of a fourth (Richard Sanchez) also returning. The numbers logjam could be rectified without much problem if the Fire have a chance to snag Casillas.

His experience as a World Cup and Champions League winner (like Bastian Schweinsteiger), would be a nice addition to the team, regardless of age. Casillas was one of the best goalkeepers in the world and won Spain's La Liga five times and the Champions League three times in addition to winning the 2010 World Cup.

The question from the Fire’s perspective is if he could justify the high cost he would likely come with. Goalkeepers aren’t often highly paid players in MLS with the way the salary cap works. More flexibility has been added with more and more resources being given to teams from the league, but the cost of a player like Casillas may be difficult to justify at goalkeeper, even if he would provide another marketing and attendance boost like Schweinsteiger did.

This rumor makes for a good headline, but may not have much basis in reality. Still, there's a decent chance Casillas' name will continue to be connected with a move to MLS until he signs his next deal.

Fire's protected list for expansion draft hints at possible moves

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USA TODAY

Fire's protected list for expansion draft hints at possible moves

The MLS offseason doesn't take long to get in gear.

The Fire traded Arturo Alvarez earlier on Sunday, the same day which the list of protected players was to be announced ahead of Tuesday's expansion draft for Los Angeles FC.

LAFC will take five players in the expansion draft, which is set for 1 p.m. on Tuesday. A team can only lose one player. Each team can protect 11 players and homegrown players aren't eligible for selection. For the Fire that means Drew Conner and Djordje Mihailovic can't be taken.

The Fire protected David Accam, Jonathan Campbell, Johan Kappelhof, Dax McCarty, Nemanja Nikolic, Juninho, Matt Polster, Richard Sanchez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luis Solignac and Brandon Vincent.

While Sanchez and Schweinsteiger are out of contract, the Fire have said they are negotiating with both players. Protecting Juninho is a bit of a surprise because it implies that the Fire have some intention of keeping him for next year, or at least keeping his rights to be traded.

The Fire left David Arshakyan, Jorge Bava, Brandt Bronico, Stefan Cleveland, Jorge Corrales, Michael de Leeuw, Christian Dean, Daniel Johnson and Matt Lampson unprotected. De Leeuw would be a worthwhile pickup for LA if it thinks he is worth it after his ACL tear suffered late in the season.

With only five players being selected it's fairly likely no Fire players are taken by LAFC, but it's arguable that de Leeuw will end up being one of the best five players available. The 31-year-old tied for the team lead with eight assists and scored three goals.